The shameless Sepp Blatter called the World Cup that has just ended "the best there ever was" - just like he did after the previous World Cup, and just like his predecessor, Joao Havelange, did after every tournament. When you're FIFA president, a combination of PR, cocktails and fancy hotels seems to make every World Cup look like "the best there ever was."
But Blatter - who did not present the trophy due to an argument with Franz Beckenbauer over the German organizing committee's refusal to allow the FIFA boss to make a speech at the opening ceremony - is as far from being a regular soccer fan as Nochi Dankner is from minimum wage. And for the fans - no matter where on the planet they live, whether they watched the games in their living rooms, the local pub or with the rest of their village on some 30-year-old television - it was an awful tournament.
The standard of the soccer was appalling, there were precious few goals, the coaches employed cowardly tactics, FIFA's cynicism was pervasive, the refereeing was scandalous, the darkly capitalist side of globalization was on parade, and the players' feigning was infuriating.
For the fans, the fact that viewing figures were up on the previous World Cup, that FIFA made a cool $1.4 billion, or that the Germans were happy with their organizing committee means absolutely nothing. They want the showcase event of the sport they love to provide them with all they know the game can provide, with reminders of great games of the past and, for the new fans, with the special moments they have only seen on film.
And what did they get instead? Each team playing with barely a striker, and an elimination stage that provided the lowest number of goals ever. Just 26 goals were scored in 15 games, five of which went into extra time. That's an average of 0.78 goals per team per 90 minutes of play. To put that into perspective: Hapoel Yehud scores more.
It is likely that without the slippery ball used in this World Cup, even fewer goals would have been scored. But the lack of goals is only part of the problem. The main problem is the tactical approach that is strangling the game's geniuses. We know what some of the players on display over the past month are capable of. After the shocking World Cup in Italy in 1990, FIFA made several significant rule changes. Given the conservatism of the soccer world, it was a bold step. But now it seems as if we are back to the low-point of 1990.
There are solutions, but they go against the glorious history of the game and it's conservatism. The question that must be answered, however, is: Has soccer reached a point at which standing still, or even moving forward slowly, is the same as going backward. The offside rule cannot be abolished, but perhaps it could be applied only 20 or 30 meters from the goal. There should be an experiment with a 10-man team. The physicality, speed and athleticism of today's players means that the playing area is too crowded. It would be a bold move that would have to be thoroughly examined ahead of time, but it could save soccer.
One thing can be said for certain: Even if there are no rule changes; even if the goal average drops even further in South Africa in 2010 and television sets across the globe are smashed in frustration, Blatter will insist it was "the best World Cup ever."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now